Oh, she certainly told me some interesting, sometimes outrageous stories. Not the typical bedtime kind,” Denis Westhoff reminisces over a slice of marbled cheesecake at Dean & DeLuca in Marunouchi, Tokyo’s prime business district. “She wasn’t a conventional mother, she was more like a friend, and always spoke to me as an adult, with intelligence and humour, and about ideas. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.” Mother was Françoise Sagan, the prolific French author and playwright whose first novel Bonjour Tristesse, written at 18, brought her overnight fame, and catapulted her into that inevitability of fast cars, heavy drugs, sexual freedom, and hedonistic excess. (“Whisky, gambling, and Ferraris are better than housework,” she once said.) Westhoff, her only child, now 51, wrote his memoir Sagan et Fils in 2012 “to tell the truth, that she was an honest, warm, aristocratic and very socially aware person”, and not, as she was famously nicknamed by France’s literary elite, a “charming little monster”.
Across the road from us, standing redbrick and majestic is The Tokyo Station, the capital’s 100-year-old fully functional central train hub, newly refreshed as one of the capital’s iconic landmarks, complete with a five-star hotel, concert hall, and art gallery. On the ground floor, in a grand exhibition space, Sagan’s handwritten manuscripts – from an impressive oeuvre of some 30 novels and 12 plays, also biographies of Brigitte Bardot and Sarah Bernhardt – sit like